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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
XXX (2002)
2 Stars

Directed by Rob Cohen
Cast: Vin Diesel, Asia Argento, Samuel L. Jackson, Marton Csokas, Joe Bucaro III, Michael Roof, Tom Everett, Eve
2002 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, brief drug content, and sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 11, 2002.

More or less pre-sold as a "James Bond"-inspired franchise for the 21st century, there are both similarities and differences in "XXX" to the debonair spy who likes his drinks shaken, not stirred. While both are smooth with the ladies and out to save the world from a megalomaniac, Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) is younger, tougher, buffer, and tattooed. The action sequences he is involved in, while perhaps no more elaborate than Bond's, are decidedly more death-defying.

"XXX," pronounced "Triple-X," is the type of motion picture for which the term, "leave your brain at the door," was invented for in moviegoer-speak. If you go into the film expecting a masterpiece of nuances and subtlety, believability, logic, and invigorating character interactions and dialogue, then you are most definitely barking up the wrong tree. Directed by Rob Cohen (who at least played a part in shooting actor Vin Diesel to fame in 2001's "The Fast and the Furious"), "XXX" is an eager-to-please thrill ride so loud, fast, and high-throttle that if the theater auditorium walls fail to shake, the volume must be turned off. Intended as nothing more than a mindless entertainment, "XXX" succeeds on the sole basis of getting the heart pumping as one masterfully rendered, if hilariously over-the-top, action set-piece after the next is carried out.

As the movie starts, Xander Cage is an extreme sportsman in trouble with the law. Instead of getting arrested, however, he is elected by NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to become a secret agent and infiltrate a dangerous organization biding their time in Prague. Once there, Xander discovers that this group of men, known as the "Anarchy 99," are planning to put into action the deadly "Silent Night" biological weapon on several countries of the world. He is aided in his quest by the sultry Yelena (Asia Argento), whom he isn't quite sure is on his side or not.

From the very beginning, "XXX" is a complete mess of illogical story threads and giant plot holes (if "Anarchy 99" is planning to blow up Prague, wouldn't they be wiping out their own country and their very existence?). Likewise, the dialogue, from a screenplay written by Rich Wilkes, is shamelessly cornball, with a bevy of one-liners meant to evoke laughs but that only elicit groans. The deliriously maniacal villains, headed by the slimy Yorgi (Marton Csokas), are a stock group of cartoonish lunatics, but manage to be somewhat memorable. In almost any other movie, these debits would be a cinematic kiss of death. Because "XXX" is not supposed to be high art, or even make that much sense, they can be reasonably overlooked.

What really matters in a film of this genre is how impressive the action scenes are, and director Rob Cohen and his group of stuntmen have frankly outdone themselves. From a fiery, bullet-flying helicopter/motorcycle chase, to a bungee-jumping trip off a bridge in a car, to a meticulously filmed and awe-inspiring avalanche sequence that has to be seen to be believed, "XXX" is that rare action film that satisfies because it gets its key ingredient down just right. The avalanche scene, in particular, may have some viewers audibly gasping and holding onto their armrests in excitement. The climax—a chase to reach the speeding, waterborne biological weapon before it detonates—ends on a hair-raising enough note to make the film worth seeing for fans of this type of thing.

There is a reason that the muscular, head-shaven, baritone-voiced Vin Diesel (2001's "The Fast and the Furious") is fast becoming a superstar. As proven by his self-directed 1994 short film, "Multi-Facial," 1998's "Saving Private Ryan," and 2000's "Boiler Room," Diesel is a charismatic performer who has the acting chops of a pro, but he also has the presence and physical build of an action hero. Regrettably, Diesel doesn't get much of a chance to act in "XXX," but he more than holds his own as the star attraction of the film. As the tough and beautiful Yelena, Asia Argento (daughter of Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento) matches Diesel beat for beat as a heroine with brains and brawn. Less victorious is Samuel L. Jackson (2002's "Changing Lanes"), strictly taking his paycheck and running in the throwaway part of the facially scarred Agent Gibbons.

When "XXX" finally stops long enough for some exposition, as it must inevitably do, the movie crashes and burns with poorly conceived writing that a third-grader could see right through. Luckily, director Rob Cohen realizes that the action is what audience members are coming to see, so he never lingers long enough for the movie to grow monotonous. "XXX" is dumb and it's trashy, but there are obviously more adventures for Xander Cage to go on in the future (a sequel is already in the planning stages). On the evidence of this technically exhilarating first film, such a notion really doesn't seem like such a bad idea, after all.

©2002 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman